A Response to the Theist's Guide

I first posted “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists” on Ebon Musings in June 2001. At that time, I promised that I would cite any theist who prepared an equivalent list and posted it on the internet. In the six and a half years since, I’ve had a total of two responses to that offer. One was discussed in June of last year.

Last month, I got a second reply from a theist calling himself Quixote. He told me that if he had heard of my essay earlier, I wouldn’t have had to wait this long, and I quite agree. He’s offered a sincere effort, for which I duly applaud him. I’m glad that he invested the time and effort to compose an honest response. I think his criteria also offer some insights into the mind of the believer, but I’ll offer some more specific comments before getting to that.

The primary thing I think readers should notice about Quixote’s list is that there is little or nothing along the lines of, “If we observed X, Y or Z, that would prove theism is false.” Instead, his essay is mainly concerned with abstract philosophical issues such as “prove that justice doesn’t exist”, or “prove that mind is more likely to arise from natural than supernatural causes”. No explanation is given as to how to accomplish any of these things or what a valid answer would look like. I believe I can claim that the conditions offered in my essay are far more concrete, objective and definite than Quixote’s, most of which are vague, ill-defined and subjective.

The first item on his list has to do with the existence of emotions and qualia:

Hope, joy, love, jealousy, personality, intelligence, and the like — we observe them everyday, both firsthand and in others. Both atheism and theism account for them in their systems, however, theism has a prima fascia advantage given these observations…. Personality appears to permeate the universe, which lends itself to theism over atheism. Were it demonstrated conclusively that these observations are more likely to obtain under atheism (not proved, mind you), I would deconvert.

First of all, I don’t know what Quixote means by personality “permeating the universe”, given that the only personalities we observe are our fellow human beings, and far from permeating the universe, we are presently confined to one small planet out of all the cosmos.

Second: I want to focus on Quixote’s claim about which system of thought has an advantage when it comes to explaining human emotions. He says it is “easier” to imagine a world in which these things are fundamental, while the idea of thoughts and emotions arising from matter is a “harder case to make”. In other words, Quixote’s claim is that he personally finds it difficult to imagine how an intelligent mind might arise from a material structure, and this cognitive incapacity is what leads him to conclude that mind and intelligence are more likely to be non-mechanistic and supernatural. In short, this is a God-of-the-Gaps argument from personal incredulity.

In fact, it’s not any easier to explain mind and personality under theism. Indeed, theism tends to consider these things to be irreducibly mysterious, which is the same thing as having no explanation at all. Even if the material causes of these sensations are difficult to explain precisely in an atheist worldview, atheism is at no disadvantage. Unless theism can truly explain these phenomena in a way that atheism cannot, there is no imbalance.

The second item:

I have heard humanity described as “DNA robots,” the latest development in the arms race concerned with the survival of DNA. This characterization seems reasonable. If this is accurate, then our selves are illusions. Our sense of purpose and meaning is illusory… If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert.

This is just wrong. Even if human beings are the outcome of a process of evolution that works by propagating genes, it does not follow by any means that our sense of purpose and meaning are illusory. Our genes may have brought us into existence, but that does not mandate that their purposes are our purposes, nor that we are unable to act against them. We are creatures of reason and intellect, and even if those traits originally evolved for reasons of survival advantage, we can employ them to different ends. We can choose not to reproduce, if we desire. We can choose to value nationality or creed more highly than genetics. We can even use genetic manipulation to take deliberate control of our future adaptation. As no less a scientist than Richard Dawkins put it, “We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

Quixote’s argument is a basic logical fallacy: the claim that the products of a purposeless process must be purposeless themselves. This is like saying that an engineer can’t build fast cars unless he’s a champion sprinter, or that a soft liquid like water cannot create hard sedimentary stone, or that heavy, non-buoyant metal plates cannot be welded together into a ship that floats or a plane that flies. The product of a process may exhibit qualities not possessed by the process itself. If we choose to find purpose and meaning in pursuing a certain activity, then that purpose and meaning, by definition, is real to us. There is no magical extra ingredient necessary, no elixir of absolute meaningfulness that must be added. Since his premises here are incorrect, I don’t think the question of purpose can matter either way when it comes to deciding between atheism and theism, and I’ll move on.

Good and Evil, the Problem of Evil, an objective morality. If it could be demonstrated that these are illusory concepts as well, or that they are more likely to proceed from irrational matter, I would deconvert.

As in the last point, these are vague philosophical questions with no objective standard of fulfillment. How would you show that good and evil are “illusory”? How could you prove that they are “more likely” to arise from matter? More likely than what?

Quixote is aware of my proposal for a system of non-theistic objective morality, universal utilitarianism. I’m grateful for his serious consideration of it, but I think he’s partially missed the point:

The problem is not that Universal utilitarianism is a bad moral code. It is an excellent moral code. The problem is that UU assumes as its base a portion of the objective moral standard it denies exists.

I’ve read this several times and I still can’t tell what it means. Universal utilitarianism is an objective system of morality, in that it has as its goal a particular aim (the minimization of suffering and the maximization of happiness) such that any action is either actually in accord with this aim (and thus right), or actually not in accord with this aim (and thus wrong). The question of which of these is the case for any given action is not a matter of mere opinion or subjective preference, but a matter of empirical fact which can be resolved by sufficiently careful examination of the world. That is what it means for a system of thought to be objective. The objectivity of UU is not “smuggled in” or “assumed”, but is rather a logically inevitable consequence of the axioms it is built on. Those axioms, in turn, appeal to aspects of human experience (the existence of empathy and the desirability of happiness) that are universal or nearly so, and that neither contain nor require any appeal to the gods or any other supernatural entity.

Those who claim that good is only a human construct act as though it permeated the structure of the universe.

Of course morality does not “permeate the structure of the universe”. If one atom collides with another, there is no question of which one was in the right. If a comet crashes into Jupiter, it is senseless to ask whether it was unjust for that comet to do so. When an epidemic strikes a human population, we do not denounce the germs as evil. Morality exists only in reference to intelligent, self-aware persons and the acts we commit that affect each other. Quixote’s claims about morality seem to contain the bizarre implication that every event, even those that don’t involve intelligent agents or even living things, should be judged as having a moral value.

The fourth item on this list rehashes the first:

If it could be demonstrated that rational thought is more likely to arise from irrational matter and causes than from an intelligent agent, I would deconvert.

This is the first empirical criterion on Quixote’s list. Not coincidentally, I’d also argue that, by any reasonable standard of judging the question, this criterion has already been met.

We have abundant evidence that thought and personhood arise from, and are unified with, the normal structure and operation of a physical brain – which is why injury, disease, and other insults to the brain can induce profound alterations in a person’s consciousness. (This evidence is detailed in my essay “A Ghost in the Machine“, which Quixote may not have come across.) By contrast, I know of no evidence whatsoever that personality can exist in the absence of a brain or other comparable physical structure.

…[I]f it were demonstrated that justice is illusory, I would deconvert.

Again, atheism is compatible with the objective existence of justice. And again, this is a vague and subjective criterion with no explanation given of how it could be fulfilled. What evidence or argument would demonstrate that “justice is illusory”? What does that even mean?

If it could be demonstrated conclusively that the sensus divinitatis and theistic experience is the result of a “god gene” or some other natural cause, I would deconvert.

As mentioned above, my essay “A Ghost in the Machine” discusses the evidence for the neurological roots of religious experience, including studies that can reproduce these experiences on demand by magnetically stimulating the brain.

As I mentioned above, I think Quixote’s criteria are probably a good snapshot of why most people believe in God. There’s little or nothing in the way of empirical evidence regarding physical phenomena in the world; rather, it’s mostly philosophical questions of mind, morality and justice, combined with his personal opinions of what strikes him as more likely. These issues, it seems, convince Quixote that a divinity exists, without even studying the real world to see if this belief makes any concrete predictions that can be tested.

But the question of God’s existence is not a philosophical matter; it’s an empirical matter. Common sense is not a reliable tool when it comes to understanding the true nature of the universe. Not even philosophy is a reliable tool for that. If we want to obtain reliable truth about the way the world is, we need to guide our reasoning with evidence. We need to let the facts guide our judgment.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Robert Madewell

    If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert.

    Why is it so often assumed that atheists see no meaning in life? I hear it over and over again. Just a week or so ago, I talked to a couple of baptist missionaries in my own home. When I told them that I am an atheist, they right away started talking about meaning in life. Instead of asking me what meaning I saw in life, they just assumed that I didn’t find life meaningful at all. I was slightly insulted.

    Also, the “I would deconvert” phrase worries me a bit, because I don’t believe that I had a choice to deconvert. There is no time in my life that I can point to and say, “this is when I became an atheist.” I’m really not sure that I ever totally bought the dogma. I just examined my existing beliefs and realized that I was an atheist. I remember when I was a teenager thinking that the way God answered prayer was identical to what God not answering any prayer would be like. So despite being brainwashed and indoctrinated into fundyism, I was just not convinced enough to stay a theist my entire life. As a matter of fact, I feel that my mental health has improved since I stopped trying to be something I am not.

  • LindaJoy

    Perhaps Quixote would be interested in reading Steven Pinker’s article in the NY Times entitled, “The Moral Instinct”. It does a good job of linking moral choices to certain areas of the brain. When Pinker was interviewed on NPR, he was challenged by some religion-based callers about morality stemming from religion and his replies were well reasoned, based upon evidence, and very well expressed. I personally feel from what you have shared about Quixote’s repetition of the “I would deconvert” statements that he/she is looking for a reason to follow the inner skeptic that is shouting to get out!

  • OMGF

    Quixote’s claims about morality seem to contain the bizarre implication that every event, even those that don’t involve intelligent agents or even living things, should be judged as having a moral value.

    Shouldn’t they though, if one believes in the Xian god? What I mean is that the universe is the action of an intelligent being (god) and everything that happens. Since god has omniscience, then god can follow the infinite butterfly effect trails and a comet smashing into Jupiter might be traceable by god to some other event that causes a beautiful summer for Earth, or a disaster. In this scenario, however, it is god’s morality that is at question, and I would think that god fails the test miserably, so I wouldn’t want to hang my hat on it were I a theist.

  • penguin factory

    Robert Madewell has a good point. There are a few steretypes when it comes to atheism, but the whole “life has no meaning” thing seems to be the most widespread and pervasive, so much so that it’s taken for granted these days.

    I remember debating a Christian on this point last year. Someone sarcastically said that they were ultra-depressed and hopeless because life had no meaning (I can’t remember what it was in response to now) and a Christian poster replied with “that sounds like somthing an atheist would say”. I pointed out that I have never, in my entire life, heard an atheist actually say anything like that, and no Christian on the website had ever produced a quote from an atheist to that effect. I asked him what actually made him believe that we’re all desolate and miserable, and he said “Oh, it’s just obvious”. Furhter queries went unanswered.

    It’s very annoying- and quite insulting- to have feelings and opinions thrust upon you. The assumption seems to be that we’re either lying about our true outlook on life, or mistaken.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    But the question of God’s existence is not a philosophical matter; it’s an empirical matter.

    I agree with this statement if we are discussing a theistic being that is alleged to act in the world. Christians will agree as long as they think the archeology, history, etc., support their claims. As soon as a scholarly claim that contradicts their beliefs is produced, they either try to poke holes in the claim or retreat to a mystical position about “the witness of the holy spirit” or some other such nonsense that can’t be tested empirically.

    I agree that the existence or nonexistence of an undefined deity cannot be proven logically. The logical coherence of ideas about a particular deity’s characteristics can be examined logically and such examination usually finds at least some of those ideas incoherent. When that happens, the particular conception of god under discussion is shown to be an invalid construct – in other words, nonexistent.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Robert:

    “Why is it so often assumed that atheists see no meaning in life?” You might need to read the post before posting. I tried to make it abundantly clear that I do not consider atheists as immoral or leading lives with no purpose. For example, here is a portion of the post:

    Atheists have purpose in their lives. They find meaning. They stare at the heavens just like theists. If purpose and meaning are illusions, they are darn good ones. We are all fools. Atheists themselves are only slightly less deluded than theists in this area. I can understand a man coming to the final conclusion that all is meaningless, but it is not the default position.

    Again, we do not seem to get meaning from matter. Meaning is more consistent with an intelligence behind the universe. If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert. NOTE: this is not the same as saying that atheists do not have meaning in their lives.

    The “deconvert” phrase was borrowed from Ebonmuse’s criteria, so if you have a problem with that take it up with him :)

  • OMGF

    Meaning is more consistent with an intelligence behind the universe.

    How so?

    If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert. NOTE: this is not the same as saying that atheists do not have meaning in their lives.

    Make up your mind please, because it sounds to me like you are saying that you’ll become an atheist if you can be convinced that life has no meaning, except that atheists do have meaning in their life. So, either you are being contradictory, or you are making a demand for us to prove something that we don’t even think is true in order to show that atheism is valid. This is an unreasonable burden.

  • MS (Quixote)

    “The primary thing I think readers should notice about Quixote’s list is that there is little or nothing along the lines of, “If we observed X, Y or Z, that would prove theism is false.” Instead, his essay is mainly concerned with abstract philosophical issues such as “prove that justice doesn’t exist”, or “prove that mind is more likely to arise from natural than supernatural causes”. No explanation is given as to how to accomplish any of these things or what a valid answer would look like. I believe I can claim that the conditions offered in my essay are far more concrete, objective and definite than Quixote’s, most of which are vague, ill-defined and subjective.”

    Honestly, this is a fair criticism and one I anticipated in the preface to my post:

    A theist’s list is more difficult to compose than an atheist’s. The atheistic list that prompted this response centers around events potentially performed by God: prophecy, direct revelation, delivering inerrant texts, disclosing scientific knowledge not known to humans, among others. For this list, I do not have the luxury of requesting “the nothing” to demonstrate its nothingness. I would predict that this list will be open to the charge that it is structured in a manner that protects my belief. I am sensitive to this charge and have tried my best to avoid it. If any atheists wish to suggest an additional criterion, be my guest. If reasonable, I will certainly add it to the list.

    Again, I acknowledged up front that the atheist criteria offered were more objective in comparison. I am sensitive to this criticism and am open to suggestions…I am a theist after all and might need some help developing atheistic criteria :)

    It should perhaps be noted that the list does address many of the defeaters normally cited against theism, the POE being one. I do not think that Ebonmuse is attempting to say that the POE as an objection to theism is not objective. It would seem that if it could be cited in favor of atheism, it could be cited in favor of theism–though admittedly, one’s ultimate conclusions with topics like these are subjective.

  • http://www.eunomiac.com Eunomiac

    Very interesting! I think this is the sort of thing we need to see more of; a way to get inside the head of the other side, which I’m sure will be useful for both sides of the dispute.

    Thank you, Quixote, for bravely wading in to a nest of atheists and sharing your take on things!

  • OMGF

    If any atheists wish to suggest an additional criterion, be my guest. If reasonable, I will certainly add it to the list.

    A good criteria would be as follows:
    You should be able to provide a coherent, logical formulation of what your god is, what your god consists of, etc. and it should be able to stand up to logical objections. If not, then your arguments have been defeated and you should relinquish them. For instance, you might wish to assert that your god is omni-max. You should then be able to provide a logical layout of how that would work. If I can provide a logical reason why this can not work (this example is trivially done and indeed has already been shown to be logically impossible) then you should relinquish your belief that your god is omni-max. This kind of idea would get closer to the goal of setting more objective criteria.

  • MS (Quixote)

    OMGF,

    There are very few real dilemmas, and this is not one of them:

    “So, either you are being contradictory, or you are making a demand for us to prove something that we don’t even think is true in order to show that atheism is valid.”

    There is a wide range of thought within atheism regarding meaning (or the lack of it), and not being an atheist, I will not attempt to put words in your mouth on the subject. Maybe this is better: “If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning in an objective, theistic sense…”

  • OMGF

    Maybe this is better: “If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning in an objective, theistic sense…”

    In that case, I suggest you define your terms. What is a “theistic sense” in terms of whether life has meaning. Are you saying that we have to show you that life doesn’t have some sort of cosmic meaning or that that meaning doesn’t come from god? Either way, this seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Don’t you have to already believe in god in order to have that god ascribe some meaning to your life?

    It occurs to me, why are we being asked to show/prove things to you? Shouldn’t you be proving to us that your theism is valid? AFAIC, you’re going about this the entrely wrong way. You wish us to prove that you are wrong, when you have yet to give evidence that you are right.

  • jack

    @MS (Quixote):

    If it could be demonstrated conclusively that the sensus divinitatis and theistic experience is the result of a “god gene” or some other natural cause, I would deconvert.

    I’m curious what kind of religious experience you personally have had, and how this has affected your belief. Would you say that your religious experience is the most important thing in convincing you of the reality of God? If not, what is? If so, what is it about this experience that is so compelling to you?

  • MS (Quixote)

    On a personal note, BTW, I want to thank Ebonmuse and all of the posters at Daylight Atheism for giving me this opportunity, and the rather civil way in which you conduct yourself. I, like your host, am writing. This exercise is extremely edifying and I appreciate all your comments. It is not possible to define and defend everything–as EM so adequately pointed out some of my deficiencies–but I will give it my best shot in response to some of the above. In fact, I have posted a couple of comments on this site previously, but in the main have always felt like I shouldn’t barge in to Daylight Atheism in an attempt to usurp the site as a polemic against atheism. EM’s criteria challenge gave me an opportunity to do this lawfully, and for that and his response, I am thankful and appreciative. This goes for eveyone else as well.

    One thing I got from this exercise was the sheer difficulty in creating the criteria. I viewed it as a wake-up call and a reminder to always question one’s presuppositions and assumptions. I think this is one facet of what you folks mean by calling yourself “freethinkers.” Another thing I would like to get our of this exercise is a concept of atheism as explained by atheists in their own words, not out of a book. While this is done partly by lurking around the site, when it is provided as criticism to one’s own thoughts, it is much more forceful. I know this is important as I routinely read Christian thought and theism misrepresented–or explained less than adequately–on these pages, though in a far less degree to many other sites. This is to your credit.

    I want to add that while I disagree with you at several points, in no way do I insinuate that atheists are immoral, have no meaning or purpose, and/or any other related pejoratives that are commonly bandied about. I labored this point in the original post and stand by it. Rather, I admire those who are not afraid to follow their conclusions, despite where they may lead. I have thick skin and do not take this stuff personaly, so call me a fairly tale believer if you like–I’m cool with it–but call me that as one who understands why you believe what you do and feels the logical weight of your contentions.

  • OMGF

    I know this is important as I routinely read Christian thought and theism misrepresented–or explained less than adequately–on these pages…

    Examples please?

  • Alexander Simmonds

    If it could be demonstrated that rational thought is more likely to arise from irrational matter and causes than from an intelligent agent, I would deconvert.

    Isn’t this a logical paradox anyway? Has the intelligent agent rational thought? If not, what is an intelligent agent? If so and you need one to have a properly that it itself exhibits you get an infinite series of intelligent agents one preceding the current one to make it work.
    This is one of the general problems of requiring have a more complex system to instigate a simpler one.

  • mike

    One of the themes consistent in the quoted passages from Quixote is that he would de-convert if something was shown to be “more likely” in a universe without design than with design. I believe this entire approach is fallacious, as are pretty much all probability arguments in favor of a “designed” universe.

    The fact is, we are here. And we do experience morality, evil, meaning, etc. What we experience is only one possible universe, and only a tiny slice of it. Of course the theist can dream up a scenario (say, a god creates humans with a poof) where the outcomes we observe are inevitable. Then the theist can ask which would be more likely to produce the kind of universe we see, the dreamed-up scenario or the more “random” unguided universe. And of course the dreamed-up scenario wins, because it was dreamed up with that specific purpose in mind. But it doesn’t mean that the dreamed up scenario actually happened.

    Suppose I shuffle a card deck, and lay out all the cards in front of you. You can look at the cards and say: “These could not have occured just by chance. The probability that this particular sequence would come up by random is 10^-67. If there were a designer laying out the cards with this particular sequence in mind, it would come up with probability 1. Thus the cards must have been intentionally put in that order.”

    Hopefully the analogy and the fallacy are clear. Theists like to talk about the probability of a certain kind of universe coming about. Then (even though no one understands the entire process of universe creation well enough to come up with meaningful probability estimates) they compare it to a scenario where that kind of universe happens with probability 1, and declare victory. But that is not a correct use of probability. We can see only one possible universe. There are always an infintie number of imaginary theological scenarios where that particular universe always happens, but it doesn’t mean that’s how this one came about.

  • MS (Quixote)

    No problem, OMGF:

    I could never get a good answer to why people who hadnt heard of jesus and pals, should be condemned to hell…
    Well, that one’s easy. god obviously plays favorites all through the book, so those poor souls that don’t get to learn about Jesus get tortured in hell just as those who reject Jesus, and it’s all OK because god is the creator and he can destroy his creations if he feels like it and who are we to talk back to god and he works in mysterious ways and all that…. ;)

    Comment by: OMGF | January 26, 2008, 7:01 pm

  • MS (Quixote)

    Mike,

    I agree completely with your reasoning, though I do not think it applies here. I am reasoning from my observation backwards to what I perceive to be its most likely cause, given the restricted form of the cosmological argument I postulated. Granted, inference to the best explanantion is a weak form of argumentation; however, the possible scenarios you alluded to were reduced to two: eternal matter or an eternal supernatural. This is substantially different than my producing a scenario out of thin air as you suggest.

    BTW–please notice that your post produced a “possible scenario” in much the same manner you suggested I did with my criteria. Regardless, thank you for your post. I see clearly that my choice of the phrase “likely cause” is a poor one. You read it as “probability,” which is not what I intended. I will need to rethink the wording and, in respect to your post, make sure I am not in actuality making a probability argument, which, as you demonstrate, is not convincing.

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    If your list were to be writeen 200 years ago, it’s safe to assume that you would probably write something along the lines of:

    “If it could be demonstrated that the complexity of life as we see it is more likely to arise from irrational matter and causes than from an intelligent agent, I would deconvert.”

    You can’t deny that this would probably be in the list of many theists back then, but is not present in your list today, because the goal post has been moved now that we know the answer for this one. If you do not accept the evidence for evolution as having “demonstrated conclusively” this point, that this whole discussion is pointless, since there would be no amount of evidence to convince you of anything. But you seem like an intelligent person and open to evidence, so I’m not sure where we stand here – do you accept evolution? Or is this discussion pointless?

    I agree with Adam when he said that you only had one empirical reason in your list, and I also agree that the criterion has already been met.

    But because it has not been met with such strong evidence and acceptance as evolution, this criterion is still in your list. It’s up to you to accept it your not, but the evidence is there. I’m guessing this criterion would NOT make into a similar theist’s list 200 years from now, but by then the goal post will have moved again, as it has done for so many times already.

    Have you read his “The Ghost in the Machine”? What do you say to it?

  • 2-D Man

    MS, you’ve claimed that the quote from OMGF is a misrepresentation of Christianity. What is a correct representation? What actually happens to those people if they haven’t ever heard of Jesus? OMGF’s answer seems to be the logical consequence of people not having heard of God according to the Bible.

    If you’ve already answered this question elsewhere, please provide a link.

  • mike

    Quixote:

    Firs of all, I didn’t mention in my previous comment, but I respect the fact that you seem to want to use logical tools in your quest for these big answers. I can certainly see the appeal of probabilistic arguments as one such tool. But in the end, I think probabilistic arguments are the least convincing (at least to me).. or at least the easiest for me personally to pick apart (as a math geek). In fact, they happen to be my pet peeve of mine, which is why I have a tendency to spout off about them (like in this comment!).

    I will need to rethink the wording and, in respect to your post, make sure I am not in actuality making a probability argument, which, as you demonstrate, is not convincing.

    If there is a way to discuss “most likely causes” (or “most likely” anything) in any objective way without invoking probability, I’d love to know about it ;)

    please notice that your post produced a “possible scenario” in much the same manner you suggested I did with my criteria.

    Unless I misunderstand this comment, that was my point in illustrating the problem with the logic. The cards were shuffled without any intent or purpose, but this kind of “most likely cause” reasoning could lead one to conclude that they were shuffled with some specific intent or purpose. I was not explicit enough about the purpose of that example.

    This is substantially different than my producing a scenario out of thin air as you suggest.

    I didn’t mean to imply that your theistic scenario was something you just pulled out of thin air, and I regret that it came across that way. I only wanted to illustrate that this kind of backwards-probability logic can (and often must) lead to a conclusion that was clearly wrong (i.e., even a conclusion that was just pulled out of thin air).

    I know you said you didn’t want to get into a lot probability, but I can’t help myself ;) Even if you’re comparing a scenario which is not obviously fabricated like in my example, there are still even more problems with this backwards-inference approach:

    • You’re comparing the probability of two cosmological models resulting in a certain outcome. Any attempt at quantitatively evaluating such a probability would be at best a guess (on the one hand the system in question is too large, on the other hand you could argue that any system with supernatural elements is un-evaluatable in this sense).

    • The only way to do a correct backwards inference is with Bayesian probability methods. But it only works in the following manner: If you have a prior probability estimate of some event (say, the universe being intelligently designed), then observing a related event (the existence of life, morality, etc) can alter the probability estimate (into the posterior probability).

    Of course, #2 begs the question of how do you get a prior probability estimate of something like the existence of god/design? Your final answer (the posterior probability) will very much depend on how you choose your prior. This is one of the problems pointed out in Hemant’s review of The Probability of God book. The answer you get will not be very robust to differences in the prior probability estimate.

    inference to the best explanantion is a weak form of argumentation;

    So if you don’t want to make a probabilistic argument (“best” = “most likely”) are you trying to make an appeal to Occam’s razor (i.e, “best” = “simplest”)? That is something where I think there is more of an opportunity for debate — i.e, what really is “simpler”?

    Well, that sure turned out to be long-winded. I hope I said everything that I needed to ;)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Hi folks,

    I see Quixote has graciously dropped by to continue the discussion. I thank him for being here – I think this is a good opportunity for both believers and nonbelievers to learn more about the other side’s position – and I ask you all not to be too hard on him (or at least, no harder than is strictly required by the situation). Let’s make sure he comes away with a good impression of atheists.

    I do have a few comments to make about his replies so far:

    A theist’s list is more difficult to compose than an atheist’s… For this list, I do not have the luxury of requesting “the nothing” to demonstrate its nothingness.

    It’s true that you can’t supply evidence to prove a universal negative, but I have an alternate suggestion. If Quixote wants to expand his list, or if any other theists want to reply to my challenge, here’s my proposal: simply list the reasons why you believe in God, and then explain clearly what it would take to overturn those reasons and convince you that each one of them does not point to God’s existence after all. This is a logically valid form of argument to the best explanation. It would be like disproving the existence of aliens or Bigfoot: we can’t prove definitively that there are no such beings, but if we show that all the evidence offered for them is misrepresented or hoaxed, there would be no reason remaining to believe in them.

    I realize, Quixote, that you’d probably object and say that this is what you did already. If so, I’d point to my criticism that this list is largely a collection of abstract philosophical issues and really has only one criterion that is a matter of empirical evidence. Do you consider this to be a reliable way of knowing about the external world?

    Maybe this is better: “If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning in an objective, theistic sense…”

    But how would we demonstrate that, other than by demonstrating that there is no god? That seems circular to me.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Thanks for arguing, MS — it’s great having someone who has read the background and seems to know the basics, at least. And, whilst I try not to tell people that they believe in fairy tales, etc, I admit I feel more comfortable knowing that I don’t have to tiptoe too much :-)

    It would seem that if [the Problem of Evil] could be cited in favor of atheism, it could be cited in favor of theism.

    I must protest. The Problem of Evil as applied to theism and the ‘Problem of Evil’ that you apply to atheism operate in completely different ways. The latter refers to the existence of the concept of evil; the former refers to the existence of concrete events that we consider that concept to apply to.

    Even someone who did not believe that the concept of evil exists could still apply the Problem of Evil to theism by noting that within the standard theistic framework, evil does exist, so within that framework we can still derive the expected contradiction.

    By contrast, your argument appears to be “There exists a concept of evil, therefore God exists”. But the fact that we have a concept of evil proves nothing of the sort. What reason do you have to think that the concept of evil exists outside of our heads and apart from human beings?

  • MS (Quixote)

    Petrucio:

    I would certainly add your criterion to the list, but I would delete “complexity of” from it. Evolution is a powerful theory to explain the complexity of life; however, I believe it deals with organisms that are already considered life (I say believe because I am not a scientist). As I understand it, evolution has nothing to say about life itself arising from non-living material. Regardless, now that you mention it, if it were demonstrated that life rose from irrational matter by natural causes, I would be hard pressed to maintain theism.

    “But because it has not been met with such strong evidence and acceptance as evolution, this criterion is still in your list. It’s up to you to accept it your not, but the evidence is there. I’m guessing this criterion would NOT make into a similar theist’s list 200 years from now, but by then the goal post will have moved again, as it has done for so many times already.”

    This is an excellent point. You’re right. The goal posts have moved considerably. All in all, I would have to conceed that as a strong point in atheism’s favor. “The Ghost in the Machine” is my next stop. I’ll get back to you on that one.

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    As I understand it, evolution has nothing to say about life itself arising from non-living material. Regardless, now that you mention it, if it were demonstrated that life rose from irrational matter by natural causes, I would be hard pressed to maintain theism.

    You are right when you say that abiogenesis has not yet been demonstrated, although many plausible theories exist to explain the emergence of life from non-life. But the fact that we don’t know something does not mean that God would be the answer (god of the gaps). God is as unsatisfactory an answer to me as no answer at all, since that hypothesis raises more questions that it answers. For more on abiogenesis: wikipedia entry

    Interesting that you added one more empirical reason the leave theism to your list. One that I think will be met, maybe in our lifetimes.

  • Eric

    Justice, love, joy, et al are used by Quixote to try and illustrate that these are common knowledge and we all experience them yet cannot be proven to exist.

    This is a very common trap that western thought subscribes to. It operates on a “either or” sense of subjectivity or objectivity.

    A romantic mind sees these items (and MANY MANY others) as being ONLY subjective. What one experiences as joy is not joy experienced by another, therefore it is only in the subjectivity that these items exist.

    The classic mind sees these items as being only objective. They are values assigned to objects, feelings that define and qulaify those objects and feelings. A classic mind would say that these items should be able to be proven using scientific method and machines to measure and detect the levels of such.

    BOTH of those ideas are of course, false.

    As such, Quixote’s position falls apart. What he fails to see, and most everyone fails to see is that these items which he claims cannot be PROVEN to exist but must be believed in cannot be independently related with either subject or object but can be found ONLY IN THE RELATIONSHIP of the two with other. They are the point at which subject and object meet.

    So, They are not THINGS per se, as much as they are EVENTS.

    So his use of them to try and draw paralllels with god and the disproof idea falls apart.

  • MS (Quixote)

    “I realize, Quixote, that you’d probably object and say that this is what you did already. If so, I’d point to my criticism that this list is largely a collection of abstract philosophical issues and really has only one criterion that is a matter of empirical evidence. Do you consider this to be a reliable way of knowing about the external world?”

    No objection. There is a lot to respond to here and with other posts. I appreciate all the time and effort spent on everyone’s part and will respond ASAP tomorrow to each post.

    I do, however, have an early date tomorrow with the James Webb Space Telescope (which may help to solve some of these issues for us eventually) so I need to sign off for now.

    PS to Lynet: Didn’t you make a comment about showing and telling the other day? Are you an author? If not, you have a keen insight…

    PSS- I apologize for putting everyhting in quotes. I don’t know how to paste with the highlighted border like you do…sorry.

  • Samuel Skinner

    There are currently three theories of the origion of life that I know of. There may be more- I don’t know.

    Chemical Soup theory- Holds that life developed in tidal ponds by the ocean. Interestingly not really sound- scientists held it as a stopgap theory (A cartoon guide to the universe volume one)

    Steamer theory- life developed at steamer; the vents in the ocean that are hundreds of degrees and spewing out a wide variety of chemicals.

    Ice is nice- Newest theory. Holds that life developed in ice. Apparently when water freezes it forces impurities into pockets and channels; it actually speeds up reaction rates and the channels make it easy for the different products to interact. (Discover)

    Never forget the most important piece of the puzzle-time. Life had a long amount of time to develop. I don’t know if development was measured in months years, centuries , milenia or more- no matter how long it took it obviously had enough time to do so.

  • Samuel Skinner

    I forget an important point- what they have to explain. There is already exlainations for amino acids, RNA and cell membranes- the main difficulty is explaining how RNA developed that could “give orders” that resulted in protein production. I think that is an unknown. Given the rate of research into cellular biology (my Cell Bio teachers syllabus was generally incomplete half way through the year) I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation changed. I mean RNAi is only been known about for several years.

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    If it was on steamer, or in ice, or from a comet, is rather irrelevant for this discussion I think. The key is showing how evolution-capable organic, self-replicating molecules can arise from simpler molecules.

    It could be done by all those theories, or it could be done by none, but I think that duplicating that in a lab would be the nail in the coffin, regardless of where on earth it really started.

    The logic behind the Chemical Soup Theory is enough for the puposes of illustrating the plausibility of the concept to someone that can’t possibly conceive of evolution-capable life ariving out of non-life, as most theists (and many atheists) can’t.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    PS to Lynet: Didn’t you make a comment about showing and telling the other day? Are you an author? If not, you have a keen insight…

    I thank you. Yeah, I made a comment about showing and telling with regard to people’s notions of heaven.

    Am I an author? Heck, who isn’t? But I’ve never been published. I have modest ambitions for my poetry, but that’s about it.

    PSS- I apologize for putting everyhting in quotes. I don’t know how to paste with the highlighted border like you do…sorry.

    Look up above the comment box where it says

    XHTML: You can use these tags:

    The relevant html tag is ‘blockquote’. You need to put it that word (without the quote marks) in angle brackets before the part you want to quote. Then you need to write ‘/blockquote’ in angle brackets at the end of the quote to make it stop. I can’t show you the angle brackets as they will inevitably be read as html markers (once I used one as a ‘less than’ sign and lost the whole rest of my post). You can see them in the list of tags above the comment box, though, so hopefully you know what I mean.

  • Alexander Simmonds

    Moreover, the Problem of Evil is trotted out consistently as a defeater for theism. Any theist who has not felt the weight of the POE has not comprehended it. Nonetheless, the POE seems to be a problem for atheists as well. Given naturalism, evil exists only as a human construct, not as a metaphysical reality. It follows that nothing is truly “evil” in the theistic understanding of the world. However, humans, atheists and theists alike, experience it everyday, recognize it on the news, and generally deplore it. If naturalism is true, this feeling is an illusion.

    Hold on there. Humans experience it every day and recognize it? So if it is a human construct why wouldn’t that group experience it? A bigger question is does anything non-human have a working concept of evil?
    I have to say that one persons evil is not the same as another. Just because we use the same word it doesn’t mean the same thing. Is homosexuality evil? I am sure to some it is under that category. It is not for me.
    Some people like custard, some people don’t. You don’t need a meta-physical scale of custard goodness to have an opinion about that. My opinion that custard is enjoyable or not is not an illusion – to me!. It is an opinion. What I think is evil is my opinion. That we can agree in general terms about certain events or actions being evil is simply a side effect of us being human. I am not sure what your position on female circumcision or honor killings or war in general but I think you will find people who have a different measure of evil than your own.

    It follows that nothing is truly “evil” in the theistic understanding of the world.

    And? This is a problem because? (when we talk about it we may not be talking about the same things?)
    There is also a problem with having an external meta-physical scale for use by a physical entity. How is the communication done?

  • jack

    Ebonmuse wrote:

    If Quixote wants to expand his list, or if any other theists want to reply to my challenge, here’s my proposal: simply list the reasons why you believe in God, and then explain clearly what it would take to overturn those reasons and convince you that each one of them does not point to God’s existence after all.

    This is clearly the way you should proceed, Quixote. It is the reason I asked you to tell us more about your religious experience in the comment I posted yesterday. I suspect that your religious experience(s), your “sense of the presence of God”, and the associated emotions, are the real reasons for your belief in God. Things like the cosmological argument, argument from design, etc., are likely to be post hoc rationalizations. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in any case, I’d like to hear the details of your religious experience(s).

  • Stacey Melissa

    I think Quixote really, really needs to read Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God. Carrier addresses all of the above points in substantial detail, and shows how those points miss the mark. He shows how naturalism answers those questions far, far better than supernaturalism can even hope to.

  • Chet

    Those who claim that good is only a human construct act as though it permeated the structure of the universe.

    Surely this is a ludicrous statement. It’s like saying “people who travel act as though their luggage permeates the universe” – nonsense, it’s simply the case that people who travel are with their luggage because they bring it with them; similarly, human beings don’t tend to act as though they enter volumes of space where morality doesn’t exist – except for Las Vegas, I guess – because they bring their morality with them.

    Like luggage.

  • Ric

    MS (Quixote) said:

    The ghost in the machine is my next stop

    Oh boy. Get ready, MS. That essay is devastating to belief in a soul.

  • OMGF

    MS,

    No problem, OMGF:(snip)

    The wink should have given it away that I had my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. Nevertheless, do you deny that god plays favorites? And, do you think I haven’t actually heard that argument used, because I have actually heard that argument used. I’ve also heard the argument that god planted all those extra people bound for hell in order to test the faith of the believers. You personally might not agree with those arguments, but it does not mean that they are false representations of Xian thought, because some Xians do think that way.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    Lynet:

    You can use &lt; to get < and &gt; to get > (lt = less than, gt = greater than). So, you can type out:
    &lt;blockquote&gt;Quoted text here&lt;/blockquote&gt;

    to get:
    <blockquote>Quoted text here</blockquote>

    in order to demonstrate:

    Quoted text here

    Whew!

  • windy

    Quixote:

    Thought—as far as we know, matter, energy, etc., do not think.

    Actually, as far as we know, only matter + energy think.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Nes, I don’t want to know what you had to type in order to say that! Thanks :-)

  • Christopher

    Quixote,

    “Thought—as far as we know, matter, energy, etc., do not think.”

    Last time I checked, what we call “thought” is but chemicals and electricity interacting upon one another – in other words, matter and energy thinking!

    Please try harder…

  • MS (Quixote)

    For Christopher, windy, and similar posters:

    “Please try harder” should mean first that you read my list. Otherwise, you are arguing based on secondary posts…and we all know how reliable secondary sources can be :)

    BTW–my OP said “It is understood and agreed that our brains are made of matter and that they think, but that is the question here, not the answer. (yeah, yeah, except for my brain)”

    Cheers.

    Ric-devastating…yes. I agree. Spent last night reading it. Will respond tonight. Just don’t want to irritate our host too much :)

    Plus I really owe Jack, Lynet, and some others a response which I promise I will get to.

  • Eric

    Quixote,

    I really want to commend you here. It isn’t easy to jump into the “lion’s den” and be respectful and intelligent. I have to say, that while I don’t respect your beliiefs, I do have respect for you and how you are handling this debate. Good on ya’ dude!

  • windy

    “Please try harder” should mean first that you read my list. Otherwise, you are arguing based on secondary posts…and we all know how reliable secondary sources can be :)

    Hmm, didn’t I quote directly from your post? (ps. my intention was not to mock, but to draw your attention to the “as far as we know” part – what do we know about minds?)

    BTW–my OP said “It is understood and agreed that our brains are made of matter and that they think, but that is the question here, not the answer.

    Did you notice that this directly contradicts the statement “as far as we know, matter does not think”? (However, since you can derive anything from a contradiction, it logically follows from list item number 4 that theism is true! Bravo, sir! :)

  • MS (Quixote)

    Eric- Thanks & nicely put. You folks are very respectful, which speaks volumes considering the bad rap that atheism gets from many theists. The main thing is this: this site is full of intelligent folks who have given a load of time and effort to a complete stranger, which amounts to a free introductory education in atheism for me-a subject I am keenly interested in. This is greatly appreciated, more than I can express in a post.

    It has been good to enter the lion’s den–a fine Biblical metaphor Eric :). I can say this as a token of my appreciation though: this exercise has had a profound effect on my thinking on many different levels in this brief week or so. Much appreciated.

    Windy:
    “our brains are made of matter and that they think” The antecedent of the word “they” in this sentence is obviously the word “brains.” Therefore, the claim is that the brain thinks. This is not a contradiction of the statement “as far as we know, matter does not think.” I grant you that it is poorly worded-when I am speaking of matter here, the idea is all the other matter we observe in the external world, not the matter in our brains. Even still, I doubt I would agree with an assertion that the matter in our brain “thinks.” At best, it would be a cumulative effect of the interaction matter that composes the brain. It’s clear I am not a scientist! Nice job with the humor though, got a good chuckle out of that last line…

  • MS (Quixote)

    Lynet:

    Even someone who did not believe that the concept of evil exists could still apply the Problem of Evil to theism by noting that within the standard theistic framework, evil does exist, so within that framework we can still derive the expected contradiction.

    No objection. Your protest is why theists have, rightly so, been taken to task to explain evil in the world. I would like to press you, however, on the concept of evil from your perspective. I would never presume to know what is in your heart and mind, but I would wager a great deal that evil to you is more than a concept.

    I would bet that looking back, there have been times when you were wronged to the degree that it went beyond your concept of evil, which is to say, that at those times you believed it was really wrong–not just a trangression against a merely human concept with which you perceive the world. I would also bet that there are things you believe are flat out wrong: a political belief, a societal evil such as slavery, you can fill in the blank better than I can. I am certain you are passionate about many of these things. (Yes, see there, I want to emphasize once again that atheists are moral folks)

    The idea I have in mind here in my list is that all of us observe evil first hand, in others, and in the world that we recognize is greater than a transgression against a social contract, a humanly created set of mores, or the like. Our behavior gives us away or perhaps we are deluded. We simply care more about these things than we would if it were only a conception.

    Another way to wrap your arms around this idea is to wonder whether you believe heinous evil (third reich) is really evil. I would not consider the third reich evil if all I had to tell me of its evil were the American social contract. If that were the only basis to declare Hitler evil, he would be sitting on the other side of the Atlantic telling me his social contract declared it was not evil. Without an objective mediator, there is no ultimate way to determine who is correct.

    This leads to a few potentialities. Many folks simply conclude that there is no right and wrong, no good and evil. I have a lot of respect for this position, but viscerally I cannot escape the feeling that some things are evil.

    Others conclude that we can know our concepts of good and evil based on reason. I disagree with this assessment because at some point in the reasoning chain that would lead to the concept, the idea of good and evil is smuggled into the chain of reasoning in order to conclude what is good and evil. The problem with this is readily apparent.

    Another attempt to overcome this difficulty is an appeal to evolution and biological factors. Again, I am not a scientist, but it seems that the idea is something like this: at some point in our evolution we evolved socially as well, and what was helpful and unhelpful to our species individually and collectively formed our concept of good and evil. I have no problem with this conception as a structure to explain the origin of a human conception of good and evil; however, it seems to imply once again that good and evil never really happen–if all that is in view is the propagation of genes or the survival of species. Is it an evil that the dinosaurs went extinct or that we as a species would? Well, no. The universe does not seem to care under this system. Matter does not seem to exhibit this quality.

    There are more examples of prospective systems–feel free to supply your own–but I believe they will all suffer from the same deficiencies. Personally, if I deconverted to atheism, I would favor the first position, though I suppose I would fight the plague alongside Dr. Rieux. Granted, I have based all of this conjecture on a feeling and we all recognize that feelings are subjective, perhaps even caused by the brain as suggested in “A Ghost in the Machine.” (I feel the grumbling at the verb choice in the last sentence)

    But then again, feelings are not always wrong. They are at least something we experience more intimately than many things we take for granted about the external world. Can I prove it? No. But what I can do is ask you to be honest with yourself. Are your feelings about good and evil in this world tied to an objective reality or are they merely a human concept that in the end is really not true? (or is this a false dilemma?)

    There is an attendant difficulty for atheism here that theists are not forced to contend with: the existence of good. In short, where the POE is singular for theists, it is plural for atheists. Atheism seems to have no mechanism to account for the existence of good. For reasons stated above, don’t you really in your heart of hearts believe that some things are actually good in a sense that it trancends merely a human concept? Everyone I have ever talked to or seen in action has. I can only assume that you do as well.

    Does this prove anything? No. Is it based on observation? Yes. Ultimately it is inductive, but it seems to me to be the more likely answer given the observation, which is what we have to go on.

    What reason do you have to think that the concept of evil exists outside of our heads and apart from human beings?

    The aforementioned is my reason. Hopefully this gives you an insight into the theist mind (no snickering), especially in light of the cosmological analytical framework I presented with the list. Feel free not to tiptoe–just cut me some slack in the wording. I have tried to get the idea down without much attention to defining terms strictly or their operation within a logical structure. Would be very interested in your reply and thanks for teaching me the fine art of block-quoting :)

  • MS (Quixote)

    A good criteria would be as follows:
    You should be able to provide a coherent, logical formulation of what your god is, what your god consists of, etc. and it should be able to stand up to logical objections. If not, then your arguments have been defeated and you should relinquish them. For instance, you might wish to assert that your god is omni-max. You should then be able to provide a logical layout of how that would work. If I can provide a logical reason why this can not work (this example is trivially done and indeed has already been shown to be logically impossible) then you should relinquish your belief that your god is omni-max. This kind of idea would get closer to the goal of setting more objective criteria.

    OMGF,

    This would be a higher standard of theism than I was aiming at, but since I was a bit uncharitable to you earlier, I will accept your challenge. Shoot…

  • http://wildphilosophy.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    Others conclude that we can know our concepts of good and evil based on reason. I disagree with this assessment because at some point in the reasoning chain that would lead to the concept, the idea of good and evil is smuggled into the chain of reasoning in order to conclude what is good and evil. The problem with this is readily apparent.

    That’s a pretty quick dismissal of pretty much the entirety of moral philosophy since Plato! I am pretty underwhelmed by your claim that our reason can’t lead us to knowledge of good and evil. What else are we supposed to use to to determine good and evil – a flip of the coin?

    Or are we, perhaps, supposed to look to the Bible? Well, aside from the well-known moral deficiencies of the Bible, we would still have to wonder – why look to the Bible? Why not the phone book instead? Or the Enuma Elish? Proving the divine provenance of the Bible is, I submit, an impossible task.

    The only other option I see, then, is some sort of moral sensor that allows us to feel what is right and wrong – except that we all know how erratic feelings can be! Who’s feelings do we trust when one person “feels” that homosexuality is wrong, but another doesn’t? It comes down to reason!

    You might offer a response of “Divine Command Theory” – but of course, you would then have to contend with the Euthyphro Dilemma. Of course, the existence of God is irrelevant to morality, as Richard shows.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I would bet that looking back, there have been times when you were wronged to the degree that it went beyond your concept of evil, which is to say, that at those times you believed it was really wrong–not just a trangression against a merely human concept with which you perceive the world.

    …Are your feelings about good and evil in this world tied to an objective reality or are they merely a human concept that in the end is really not true?

    Quixote, I believe you’re trying to draw a distinction that doesn’t exist. Right and wrong are human concepts; they are also objective realities. There is no contradiction in that. The one doesn’t exclude the other, because they are human concepts that refer to objective facts about the world: the relative amounts of happiness and suffering in it.

    For reasons stated above, don’t you really in your heart of hearts believe that some things are actually good in a sense that it trancends merely a human concept?

    No. Frankly, I don’t understand what that would even mean. The only way I can make sense of your statement here is by assuming you mean that a state of affairs can be good over and above its goodness for all the humans it affects. That, to me, is nonsensical. Once you’ve determined the moral value of an event for all the people it affects, you’ve determined the moral value of that event. There is nothing else that needs to be considered; there is nothing else to be considered, as far as I can see.

    But even let’s say you’re right: let’s say I feel at a deep level that an event is somehow good even beyond the goodness it produces for the people involved. So what? What would that prove? It would be arrogant of me to assume that my vague, subjective convictions are a wholly reliable guide to the nature of external reality. Just because I “feel” something is not evidence that it is true. Even if I did strongly believe that an event was good beyond the goodness it produces for humans, isn’t it possible that I could simply be wrong about that?

    Atheism seems to have no mechanism to account for the existence of good.

    Surely you’re not serious.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I’m curious what kind of religious experience you personally have had, and how this has affected your belief. Would you say that your religious experience is the most important thing in convincing you of the reality of God? If not, what is? If so, what is it about this experience that is so compelling to you?

    Jack,

    The cosmological argument a post hoc rationalization? Come on, man, get real. Actually, you are 100% on the money. Absolutely, it is.

    Religious experience functions as a confirmer of faith and a bulwark against falling away from faith, no question about it. This is one reason it is stressed within a religious community. There are others, of course, but this is the one in play here.

    Honestly, I did not think my experience played a large role in my belief until you asked the question. But, come to think of it, it does. Most certainly. It was the post hoc comment that set it off. I really had never thought of it that way before.

    I did not attend church until I was twenty-four, which seems young, but statistically, a very small percentage of people will find faith after their teenage years. My mother took me to church sporadically as a kid, but I was a practical atheist until my mid twenties.

    I say practical atheist because I can never really remember a time when I did not believe in God. I admit this because I like your post, knowing full well how this admission will resonate in the mind of any atheist that reads this, but so be it. This is one of the weird things about many theist minds. You pretty much just always know somehow that God is there–not that I would offer that as a proof–it just seems odd that someone else would not believe.

    With this in mind, reports of the God gene or sections of the brain that cause belief in a divinity are frankly unsettling, which was reaffirmed by reading “A Ghost in the Machine” last night. If it is an illusion caused by my brain, it is an overwhelmingly strong one.

    The experience, mostly, seems to confirm the belief. In light of this, it is easy to see how where you would see a coincidence, I would see a providential act of God. Where you would perhaps have difficulty imagining revelation, it seems the most natural thing in the world to me. Where you would see the natural universe, I would easily see the creative power of God. I could develop this literally in a hundred different ways.

    I suppose this is why it is natural for theists to conceive of the sensus divinitatis–it is such an integral and natural facet of their experience. Since it comes so easy and a theist has difficulty imagining life without it, perhaps this is why they claim that atheists must be repressing it. Please don’t take offense to that statement; it would be similar to me not understanding why you can’t see the color red. This sense is so strong in theists that I beleive Alvin Plantinga has argued that it is a properly basic belief.

    This in no way nullifies what I think are rational reasons for the existence of God (oh yeah, sure, the crowd said), but it surely helps to support them.

    I have likely destroyed whatever hope I had in cnvincing folks on this site that I could maintain objectivity, but I liked both of your posts so much that I thought it well worth the risk to think deeply about it and report back what is an honest answer. Goes for Eunomiac as well…

  • http://wildphilosophy.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    I have to mention Richard’s post, here, about God and Evil.

    What if there is an omni-malevolent deity?

    Sure, it seems to us that the world contains goodness, and it’s hard to see why a perfectly evil agent would want to allow this. But we can’t be sure that an omniscient evil-doer couldn’t have some hidden reason to allow these goods. Perhaps it’s all part of their plan, and serves to bring about some ‘greater evil’ which is beyond our comprehension.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Quixote, I believe you’re trying to draw a distinction that doesn’t exist. Right and wrong are human concepts; they are also objective realities. There is no contradiction in that. The one doesn’t exclude the other, because they are human concepts that refer to objective facts about the world: the relative amounts of happiness and suffering in it.

    I am quite conviced already by your writings that you believe the distinction doesn’t exist. I also concur that even if you are correct in assuming that right and wrong are merely human concepts, they would still be objective realities (we may be talking past each other by pouring a different meaning or sense into the word objective). There is no contradiction in this assertion. Again, I agree. I was not trying to demonstrate that proposition as contradictory.

    The point I was laboring, is that I consider good and evil more than concepts. Lynet had asked why I thought they were. This was an attempt to answer that question

    Even if I did strongly believe that an event was good beyond the goodness it produces for humans, isn’t it possible that I could simply be wrong about that?

    I think I was up front in stating that I could be wrong about this.

    No. Frankly, I don’t understand what that would even mean. The only way I can make sense of your statement here is by assuming you mean that a state of affairs can be good over and above its goodness for all the humans it affects.

    Well, yes I believe that, but that was not the intent. The statement’s intent is that a merely human concept of goodness cannot produce the level of goodness we seem to feel. BTW-how would you determine the moral value of an event?

    Surely you’re not serious.

    I am…and don’t call me Shirley :)

  • windy

    “our brains are made of matter and that they think” The antecedent of the word “they” in this sentence is obviously the word “brains.” Therefore, the claim is that the brain thinks. This is not a contradiction of the statement “as far as we know, matter does not think.” I grant you that it is poorly worded-when I am speaking of matter here, the idea is all the other matter we observe in the external world, not the matter in our brains.

    OK, now I see what you mean, but this is a weak claim, IMO. The matter “in the external world” is the exact same type of matter as in your brain, just organized differently (and all the atoms in your brain were once “out there” too)

    In fact, it’s difficult to see why you consider thinking a strike against matter at all. As far as we know (=generalising from all examples known so far), matter and energy are absolute requirements for thought*. If you think otherwise, you need to make the case for it.

    (* this is true whether you want to say that matter thinks, or that thinking is some cumulative effect of it, or even if you suggest that “something more” might be involved)

  • Alexander Simmonds

    from above

    …. The statement’s intent is that a merely human concept of goodness cannot produce the level of goodness we seem to feel. …

    I think you have this the wrong way round. We feel something. With language with label the collection of experiences where we have this feeling as ‘good’. As language operates as a reference to the experience, it is conceptualizing the feeling. (We then, more often than not, get another feeling about concepts which is a completely different feeling).
    The meal is not the menu and the map is not the territory.
    Let me say it a different way, What would happen if a human concept of goodness could produce the level of goodness you feel?

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Forgive me; I’m too steamed to read the whole thread before beginning my reply.

    I would bet that looking back, there have been times when you were wronged to the degree that it went beyond your concept of evil, which is to say, that at those times you believed it was really wrong–not just a trangression against a merely human concept with which you perceive the world.

    Ouch. You think it would take a transgression against me to make me care about what was happening? Believe me, I’d be far more certian of my judgement that what was happening was evil if it were happening to somebody else — then at least I’d know it wasn’t just self-interest that was making me say it.

    I would also bet that there are things you believe are flat out wrong: a political belief, a societal evil such as slavery, you can fill in the blank better than I can. I am certain you are passionate about many of these things. (Yes, see there, I want to emphasize once again that atheists are moral folks)

    I am not satisfied. What a pathetic disclaimer! Yes, I’m passionate about many things. Passionate enough to be insulted by your suggestion that my opinion that good is a human concept would make me any less passionate.

    Being a flare-up, flare-down sort of person, I shall remain insulted for precisely as long as it takes for me to detail exactly why I am insulted. At that point I shall forgive you completely.

    We simply care more about these things than we would if it were only a conception.

    Well, my way of dealing with that is to conclude that actually there is no reason why we shouldn’t care deeply about a concept. It strikes me as more honest than inventing stories to give the notion extra justification. And I care deeply about honesty because, well, because it’s a concept I care deeply about. I do not stop caring because I can’t find some ultimate Authority that tells me I should. You could take me to the edge of reasonless nothingness and make me stare at it for however long and there would still be multitudinous crowds of concepts that I care about, because it would still be me, standing there, on the edge of reasonless nothing.

    For reasons stated above, don’t you really in your heart of hearts believe that some things are actually good in a sense that it trancends merely a human concept?

    In my heart of hearts I’d like to believe that. It’s my single deep regret. But in practical terms, it makes no difference. Even if we aren’t reasoning with reference to some objective morality embedded within the universe, we can still refer to shared concepts of morality by virtue of our shared humanity. And if some still disagree, well, we’re no worse off than those who find that they can’t force others to share a faith in their particular God — in fact, we’re better off. Concern for the common good is far more universal than the (other) details of any sort of god(s)-belief.

    On the other hand, regarding your other post:

    I have likely destroyed whatever hope I had in cnvincing folks on this site that I could maintain objectivity, but I liked both of your posts so much that I thought it well worth the risk to think deeply about it and report back what is an honest answer.

    You have diminished your credibility not one whit :-)

    Look, we know that theists are attached to their beliefs. Anyone who tries to deny that is lying. Since you are not trying to deny that, you’re probably not lying, and I take off my hat to you — or I would, if I were wearing one.

    Besides, I can’t maintain objectivity either. I can only try. And I’ve seen enough of the way you think to be of the opinion that you try, too.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Forgive me; I’m too steamed to read the whole thread before beginning my reply.

    I have that effect on women :) Come on, it’s a joke!

    I am not satisfied. What a pathetic disclaimer! Yes, I’m passionate about many things. Passionate enough to be insulted by your suggestion that my opinion that good is a human concept would make me any less passionate.

    Lynet & anyone else on the thread,

    I must have a blindspot because I do not comprehend why this is insulting here, and at points above. What I can say, sincerely, is that it is not intended to be insulting. BTW, Lynet, if it helps any, my suggestion was not that your opinion would make you less passionate, it is that your passion may be an indicator of something else. At any rate, I hate it that you were insulted despite the reason– please accept my apology.

    Let me say it a different way, What would happen if a human concept of goodness could produce the level of goodness you feel?

    I think you have it. This would satisfy the criterion.

    Regardless, I do not want to be an irritant! So I will refrain from further comments on good and evil, etc. You folks have been great and I want to leave on a good note with fond memories. When things start to get to this point, sometimes feelings can be hurt. I feel that I might even be doing it inadvertantly–and we have not even begun to really argue yet!

    This is after all, an atheist site, not a theist apologetic site. I should be reading and not guiding the conversation. Though, if it is OK with Ebonmuse, I would like to post occasionally to promote the separation of church and state. Thanks guys!

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Oh, heck, you’ve got me all wrong! You did read that bit about me forgiving you as soon as I’d explained why I was insulted, didn’t you? I mean, sure, I got fired up, but I wasn’t actually hurt.

    Look, what you were doing — or what I saw you as doing — in that first bit was trying to convince me that I cared about the difference between good and evil. Which is fine, because you don’t know me. But if you did know me, you’d know I care deeply about the difference and I don’t need to be convinced.

    It’s hard to do this over the internet. If you could see me, you’d know I wasn’t really hurt — I was just reacting passionately to your comment. You said “At those times you believed it was really wrong”. To which I say, “Hell, yes! Enough already! Yes, I’m passionately attached to my concept of good and evil; even more so because your phrasing raises the possibility that I might not be passionate about that difference all the time.”

    That — minor, almost nonexistent — insult requires me to correct it with, well, strong phrasing. You touched a nerve, that’s all. I know perfectly well you said nothing so very insulting and I’m not actually going to hold it against you. Heck, if you can understand my reaction I’ll like you more. And if you can’t understand my reaction, well, you’re not the first good man not to be able to.

    I’m not mad. I’ll prove it to you.

    Forgive me; I’m too steamed to read the whole thread before beginning my reply.

    I have that effect on women :) Come on, it’s a joke!

    My word, so it is.

    See? I’m not even mad about that. I just got really fired up at you, which means, I guess, that I owe you a little license. So you can get away with dumb comments like that :-P

    :-)

  • jack

    MS wrote:

    I suppose this is why it is natural for theists to conceive of the sensus divinitatis–it is such an integral and natural facet of their experience. Since it comes so easy and a theist has difficulty imagining life without it, perhaps this is why they claim that atheists must be repressing it. Please don’t take offense to that statement; it would be similar to me not understanding why you can’t see the color red. This sense is so strong in theists that I beleive Alvin Plantinga has argued that it is a properly basic belief.

    This in no way nullifies what I think are rational reasons for the existence of God (oh yeah, sure, the crowd said), but it surely helps to support them.

    I have likely destroyed whatever hope I had in cnvincing folks on this site that I could maintain objectivity, but I liked both of your posts so much that I thought it well worth the risk to think deeply about it and report back what is an honest answer. Goes for Eunomiac as well…

    That was an admirably honest answer. From my own experience as a former believer, and from talking with other believers, it seems that there are at least two qualitatively different kinds of sensus divinitatis: (1) an ongoing sense of God’s presence, what believers often call God’s abiding or living within the believer’s heart, and (2) a sudden, dramatic and emotional experience of God’s presence, typically in a moment of desperate hopelessness or danger, like the mythical atheist in the foxhole who turns to God in his moment of greatest terror, or the desperate alcoholic who turns to God for salvation from the bottle. For convenience, I’ll call these type 1 and type 2 religious experience, respectively. From your comment, it seems you have had only type 1. Is that correct?

    You would be surprised how many atheists have had such feelings, both type 1 and 2. I had type 1 many years ago when I was a believer. I have had two experiences of type 2 in recent years, decades after I lost all belief in God. Those events did not reconvert me, mainly because I am a neurobiologist by training, and I have a plausible biological hypothesis for such experiences. I won’t try to explain it here, because it’s rather involved and I’m writing a book on the subject. Unfortunately it won’t be in print anytime soon. The closest things I can recommend are M.D. Faber’s The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief and Lee Kirkpatrick’s Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion. I assume that by “God gene” you are referring to Dean Hamer’s book of the same title. I confess I haven’t yet read it, but what I’ve read about it in reviews casts some considerable doubt on it. That’s not to say there is no heritable component to differences in religiosity. Twin studies show beyond doubt that there is. It’s just that that genetic contribution probably cannot be attributed to any one gene, or even to just a few genes.

    The main point I would like you to consider is that the sense of God’s presence is evidence of activity in your brain, but not necessarily evidence of the presence of God. To compare it to the visual sensation of the color red is not quite fair. Any person with normal color vision will corroborate your sensation of the color red. Even someone with red/green color blindness can corroborate it indirectly if he has a spectrometer of the right kind and understands what it measures. Corroboration of your religious experience is not so easy. Some people never feel it. Other do, but feel something very different from what you feel, and would disagree with your characterization of it. I think a better comparison between religious experience and vision is to think of religious experience as analogous to a visual illusion, like the Ames room. Our brains use shortcuts to make sense of the world, but these shortcuts can, under unusual circumstances, cause errors in our perception. I suspect that the sense of God’s presence is an error in perception.

  • OMGF

    MS,

    There are more examples of prospective systems–feel free to supply your own–but I believe they will all suffer from the same deficiencies.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see any deficiencies in there except your appeal to emotion.

    This would be a higher standard of theism than I was aiming at, but since I was a bit uncharitable to you earlier, I will accept your challenge. Shoot…

    Shoot? That’s my line. No, seriously. If you are going to accept, you should present a logically coherent formulation of your god. The first step is yours, as it should be since you are bringing forth the positive assertion.

  • http://dubitoergo.blogspot.com Tom Foss

    I apologize for jumping into this in the middle of things, but I have been following the thread since it was posted. “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists” is one of my favorite articles on the site, and I refer to it fairly frequently.

    Anyway, just a couple of things I’d like to respond to briefly:

    *As far as we know, the matter outside of our brains doesn’t think–now, what could be the reason for this? What difference may there be between the matter outside our brains, and the matter inside? Could it perhaps be a matter (pardon the pun) of organization? After all, my brain and my liver are made up of very similar sorts of matter, but only one can be reasonably said to “think;” the difference is that the matter in my brain is organized in a very, very different fashion from the matter in my liver. Generalizing it out, isn’t it safe to say that matter which is not organized like our brains does not seem to think, whereas matter which is organized like our brains, does?

    The other problem here is that “think” is an ill-defined word; what sort of “thinking” are we talking about? Do dolphins “think”? Do computers “think”? Do ants “think”? Are we talking higher-order abstract conceptualization, or are we talking about baseline decision-making, or what? Once we nail down that definition, it then becomes somewhat imperative that we show that other matter doesn’t, in fact, “think,” which may be difficult to do, particularly with some sorts of animals (and some sorts of humans).

    Naturally, there’s the whole issue of brain damage, and if the brain isn’t the source of thought, then why does damage to that tissue impair thinking, change personalities, and so on?

    *There are a variety of ways to determine morality, from the sort of personal determinations that all people, Christians included, must make (what criteria do you use to determine that stoning children is unacceptable, if your morals come from the Bible?) to more widespread social determinations, to those things which seem to be more hard-coded into human (and other animals’) instinct. One of the most basic is this: there are certain traits which are absolutely fundamental to society’s existence. A society cannot function if the individuals in that society cannot reasonably assume that they will not be killed by the other individuals in said society when they turn their backs. Thus, any society will have mores against killing. If I cannot reasonably trust that my neighbor’s communications are accurate, then society cannot function, because society requires communication, so all societies (where this may be an issue) will value honesty. The same goes for stealing. On the flip side, since the survival of young is necessary for the society’s continued existence, caring for the young is valued. Basic game theory underlies the ethic of reciprocity–if I help my neighbor, my neighbor is more likely to help me when I need it–which is probably why it’s so common among social animals.

    Humans have been social animals longer than they’ve been humans. We see these moral codes in other animal societies; chimpanzees practice altruism, and they certainly aren’t the only ones. Humans are simply the first to codify and diversify these rules, in part because we’re among the first to need diversification for these rules. When an individual does something contrary to the traits necessary for social survival, we rightly determine that to be immoral, and we can generally agree on that assessment.

    With regard to Hitler and moral relativism, there are a number of ways to go about the matter. On one hand, we could accept the moral relativist stance and say “sure, he thinks he’s right, but we’re equally right in thinking him wrong.” And then we let the ideologies duke it out and see who wins. Or, we could recognize that his social mores don’t find his beliefs acceptable, since he lives in a society that includes Jews, who probably aren’t too thrilled with his mass slaughter of them; if members of your society can disagree diametrically with your assessment of the social moral imperative, then chances are you haven’t accurately assessed the social moral imperative. Or, we could apply the principle of minimum suffering, and see that Hitler’s actions increase suffering, thus defying a morality based on limiting suffering. Or, we could imagine what would happen if everyone behaved as Hitler did, killing those he deemed inferior, and determine that such actions, applied universally, would lead to widespread or total destruction, and thus cannot be considered moral. Atheism may be at a loss to explain morals; after all, atheism is merely the lack of belief in a God or gods. But atheists have no such problems; if anything, it’s difficult to choose which method of determining morality, though they may all lead similar places.

    If anything, it’s the theist who has such a problem; how do you distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable commands in your book, if that book is your guide to morality? How would you distinguish between the moral directives of God and the moral directives of the Devil if you derive your morals externally?

    I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced rights or wrongs that seem to transcend some human moral concept, and I honestly can’t quite figure out what that’s supposed to mean. I can certainly see a sliding scale of moral rightness or wrongness, with no apparent ends on either side, but I do not see any divider where the scale veers off into “so moral/immoral it must be divine.” Where would one make such a distinction? If the Holocaust is transcendently immoral, then what makes it so? If six million Jews were killed without starvation, torture, and experimentation, would it be transcendently immoral? If only one million Jews had perished in the concentration camps, what then? What if just one gypsy had been subjected to Mengele’s experiments, starvation, work, and the gas chamber, would it still qualify as transcendently immoral? Where does one move from “normal human atrocity” into “offense against god”?

  • DamienSansBlog

    Very interesting! I think this is the sort of thing we need to see more of; a way to get inside the head of the other side, which I’m sure will be useful for both sides of the dispute.

    Thank you, Quixote, for bravely wading in to a nest of atheists and sharing your take on things!

    I concur. Thank you, Eunomiac. (And Quixote, of course, again.)

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    So I came across your sites from Greta’s, who’s recent posts cite your original challenge that I found on ebon musings. I once started writing my own definition of sound religion, and reading yours makes me want to dig that piece up and follow it through, so thanks for some inspiration.

    Pre-emptively, I’d like to say I’m not in the business of proselytizing but will usually entertain any questions up to, and sometimes even non-productively surpassing, the point of non-productivity.

    I’m actually amazed only two people have responded to your challenge – am I understanding that correctly?

    My opinions change occasionally. In the context of this discussion, assuming nothing more than that I’m a theist who acknowledges very realistically the possibility that his belief might be wrong, and who still believes that God created the universe and its content and has an interest in each and every human life…assuming those and nothing more, I’d like to address some things, once I have a clearer understanding of the page we’re on.

    First off I’m unclear as to what’s the challenge here. For a theist to assemble a criteria-of-disbelief statement that you’ll then address point by point as with quixote?

    Or is the challenge simply to thoughtfully answer the question, “What would convince you that your faith was mistaken?” If that’s the case, I have issues with the formation of the question itself, both here and on Greta’s blog. For example, Greta seems to limit the discussion to ‘evidence,’ i.e. asking what evidence would overturn a believer’s faith in God.

    Although you can’t speak for Greta, is the question here, “What scientific evidence would overturn your faith?”

    Or, is the question here exactly as you write it, “what would convince a theist he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist?” This could be any hypothetical condition, including but not limited to scientific evidence.

    Just want to start off clear.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m actually amazed only two people have responded to your challenge – am I understanding that correctly?

    Yes, that’s correct. I’m in negotiations with a third, but haven’t heard back from him in a while.

    First off I’m unclear as to what’s the challenge here. For a theist to assemble a criteria-of-disbelief statement that you’ll then address point by point as with quixote?

    Or is the challenge simply to thoughtfully answer the question, “What would convince you that your faith was mistaken?”

    The latter. I’m just interested in knowing what would persuade a theist that their belief in God was incorrect and that atheism was more likely to be true. It doesn’t have to be scientific evidence, although I much prefer something that has an objective standard of fulfillment, not vague philosophical criteria whose satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder.

  • http://www.barrypearson.co.uk/ Barry Pearson

    I have published a set of web pages titled “How to convert an atheist”. (They will continue to evolve). I am aware that I am not the first to do so! I have linked to Ebon Musings and relevant YouTube videos.

    See:
    How to convert an atheist:
    http://www.barrypearson.co.uk/articles/gods/convert.htm
    Index to “religions and gods”
    http://www.barrypearson.co.uk/articles/gods/

  • Dave

    As an atheist for nearly fifty years, the observation by jack | February 6, 2008, 1:29 pm

    (1) an ongoing sense of God’s presence, what believers often call God’s abiding or living within the believer’s heart…

    strikes a chord. As a dancer, and now practitioner of Tai Chi (without the supernatural overlay), I have on a couple of occasions had experiences that I would judge conform to Jack’s description. That this type of experience can be induced in a variety of settings, and can be learned, suggests its part of the way the human mind works. It seems that Eastern traditions are better at it than Western traditions.

  • heliobates

    Barry

    Thanks for a great resource. I’m suffering the Culture War equivalent of PTSD and reading your stuff is balm to my non-existent soul.

    Your guide is made of “win”!

  • mike

    I was going to email Barry to echo heliobates’ praise about his site, but his email address bounced. So Barry, if you see this, keep up the good work (also, thanks for introducing me to physiograms).

  • ianam

    “If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert. NOTE: this is not the same as saying that atheists do not have meaning in their lives.”

    Right. The difference is that the first one is a CATEGORY ERROR. Speech acts and other performances have meaning, as a consequence of the intent of the actor. “life” is not the sort of thing that can have a meaning.

  • ianam

    “Universal utilitarianism is an objective system of morality, in that it has as its goal a particular aim (the minimization of suffering and the maximization of happiness) such that any action is either actually in accord with this aim (and thus right), or actually not in accord with this aim (and thus wrong). The question of which of these is the case for any given action is not a matter of mere opinion or subjective preference, but a matter of empirical fact which can be resolved by sufficiently careful examination of the world.”

    Well, no, for several reasons. Neither suffering nor happiness are objective properties … there is scientific measurement theory that can assign to every action how much suffering and/or happiness it produces. Nor are suffering and happiness pole opposites. Nor can one simply add up individual suffering and happiness to arrive at a global measure; subjectivity is needed to weight them. And if no weighting is involved, then there is no self-interest in this system of morality and so no one would be inclined to adopt it, objective or no. (Note that, if there really is such an objective system of morality, then there is also an objective system of morality that maximizes suffering and minimizes happiness, so clearly mere objectivity is not sufficient for adopting such a system.)

  • ianam

    s/there is scientific measurement theory/there is no scientific measurement theory/

  • ianam

    “If it could be demonstrated that rational thought is more likely to arise from irrational matter and causes than from an intelligent agent, I would deconvert.”

    One thing I noticed about theists, especially Christians, is that there are no honest ones. This HAS been demonstrated, at length, and yet Quixote has not deconverted. Every instance that we have of a rational thinker has arisen through ontogenic development from an unintelligent zygote and the accretion of raw materials. We have not a single instance of an intelligent agent producing a rational thinker from scratch … our computers are a thrust in that direction, but we’re not there yet.

  • ianam

    Moreover, the Problem of Evil is trotted out consistently as a defeater for theism. Any theist who has not felt the weight of the POE has not comprehended it. Nonetheless, the POE seems to be a problem for atheists as well. Given naturalism, evil exists only as a human construct, not as a metaphysical reality. It follows that nothing is truly “evil” in the theistic understanding of the world. However, humans, atheists and theists alike, experience it everyday, recognize it on the news, and generally deplore it. If naturalism is true, this feeling is an illusion.

    This is such pathetically dishonest BS. The POE arises for Christians because they assert that their God is completely beneficient. No such problem exists for atheism.

    And what “Quixote” offers up isn’t a problem at all (and if it were, it wouldn’t depend on atheism). Humans, every day, JUDGE things to be evil. These judgments, as human mental events, are no illusion, even if it’s an illusion that there is intrinsic evil.